I used to find these words so intertwined that sitting back and figuring out the difference was a task in itself. Until I had an author put it in the most straightforward words possible, “You lead when you create opportunities for others.” This statement resonated with another belief that I held, “to work towards making myself obsolete to my team and my organization.” Both these mindsets are easier said than achieved, but I try to practice them with purposeful thinking every day.
A leader needs to be able to inspire, identify strengths and weaknesses, relentlessly work on the business rather than in the business, be highly adaptable, be an effective communicator, have a clear vision that they share with the team regularly, should have a good network inside and outside the organization and set the culture in an organization. While all these abilities are important, vision and culture deserve a deeper dive because getting these right will have a domino effect like no other. Walking into Essex more than seven years ago, I knew what I wanted but it took me a few years to come up with a vision for Essex. Today, that vision is clear, and I repeat it often for all of us to own it and to work towards it. Culture – this was harder and it wasn’t until last year that I could verbalize it for someone else. Happy to add that Essex’s culture is defined by how we solve problems.
A manager needs to be organized and detail-oriented; be able to see problems from left to right and vice versa; hold themselves and others accountable; know when to apologize and when to express gratitude; and always be open to learning and never stop communicating, no matter how tough the circumstances. Here again, I experience that ‘expressing gratitude’ and ‘never stop communicating’ are qualities that get the least attention because we live in an age where colleagues are expected to do whatever it takes. I can think of an instance when I reached out to a very capable manager and asked whether they thought it was a deficiency. Not only did they agree that it was, it wasn’t long before they corrected course and were willing to talk about the positive impact of this small change. My experience with communication has been a bit more cut and dry, where stress or an uncomfortable situation has driven people to hunkering down and limiting themselves to e-communication. I can comfortably argue that hunkering down is the worst thing a manager can do. Taking a step back to gather thoughts or a day off to recharge is understandable but a strategic shift to ‘I will speak when I am spoken to’ is the fastest way to disintegrate teams.
Employees need to understand the business, clearly understand their roles and responsibilities, adopt the company’s culture, follow the organization’s policies, openly communicate with their supervisor, and respectfully disagree when needed. Generally speaking, disagreement sets the course for disengagement and dissatisfaction and my ask of the Essex team and to the reader is to encourage meaningful disagreement that leads to a healthy dialogue and a solution-oriented discussion.
I must emphasize that none of the above traits are mutually exclusive, for I deeply believe that every team member of an organization is a leader, a manager, and an employee. All that is different is the time we spend fulfilling these roles. For several years, I chased perfection in these roles until a leader I admired corrected and set me on a path of performance because perfection is subjective, while performance has a more objective criteria. This tweak has made me a better individual who is ready to fail and start again.
31 March 2023